Living in the Past: Book 1
Chan Po raced through the new camp that had been established at the base of the mountain. His body was covered in cuts and bruises, but he was alive. Now the only thing that mattered to him was making sure his mother and brother were alive as well. When the emperor’s men crossed the ravine on the tree they’d cut down, his mind went to the most random places. He remembered being an obstinate child and telling his mother that he hated her for making him work in the fields instead of play with the other boys. Then he flashed forward to shoving his brother because he’d broken one of his toys. As he fought through the entire battle, little snippets from his past would pop up in his mind and he wondered if he ever apologized for such trivial actions. In fact if it weren’t for the crazy foreigner he would have died trying to remember when the last time he told his mother that he loved her.
But he didn’t die, and he was here now. He would run to them and hug them both and scream it at the top of his lungs. Two of his friends had died right before his eyes and they wouldn’t be coming back to their families like he was. He didn’t care if running to his mother’s arms made him look like any less of a man, he had only just become one that night and wasn’t all that pleased with the difficulty it entailed. As he scanned the faces he saw delight, elation, pain, and worry, but it took a while for him to find that of his mother. Once he did he bolted toward her.
“Chan Po!” She screamed as their eyes met; tears streaked down her face.
“Mama!” He said smiling.
As he crashed into her he stroked his hair and held tight.
“Mama, you wouldn’t believe it. I’ve never seen anything as wondrous and terrible as I saw tonight. We fought for nearly an hour and they just kept coming. People were dying all around me; some of them were my friends from school. Li Tsung was stabbed in the stomach, Fa Than in the back. It was all so horrible.” He said frantically.
“I know, but…” she tried to interject, but he cut her off, his eyes far away from where they were now. In a place, she feared, that he may remain for the rest of his life.
“And then the foreigner, the one they left in charge, was screaming and provoking all of the soldiers she could find. They throttled her, I saw it myself. She was stabbed so many times yet did not die. And once the shock set into the soldiers she would knock them out with her heavy stick. She saved many of us, even me.”
“Chan Po, listen to me…” She tried to interject again, but it was still to no avail. His story would be told now, no other time would do.
“I thought we would all die because they just kept coming. We had no time to recover from one group before the next was on our backs, but we stood firm and held our ground with no hope of surviving and then it happened.” His eyes looked straight through her as he paused to remember every detail for himself. “There was a blast that knocked us all to the ground and as soon as I could get back up I watched the tree that all the men were using to cross float into thin air. The men that were on it fell down into the river and then it turned long ways and swung as if it were connected somehow to the sky. It took down almost all of the men on the other side of the river and the ones that weren’t knocked over ran. And as I searched through the trees I could see him clearly commanding the large trunk; breaking the laws of nature. He had brought our men with him and they were pummeling the forces on the other side. All that was left for us were the soldiers who had crossed.”
“And when the fighting was over he put the tree back down and walked over to talk to the crazy girl. I think they are gods. It must have been him who sent her to protect us. When they finished talking he told of more victories yet to come. He said that the castle had fallen and that soon a new Emperor would take the thrown. He then left us with most of the men and took a small group with him back across the river. He is leading the resistance mother, and with his power we will win.” The starry eyed look on his face lasted for a few seconds, before he noticed something.
“Where’s Li?” He asked.
She sighed with mild frustration. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, son. Li is missing. He got lost when we were running here. I tried to keep him close, but there was so much chaos, and now I don’t know where he is.” She let out a soft sob and put a hand to her mouth.
“Are they looking for him now?” Chan Po asked.
“The one called Eve went after him. She hasn’t come back.”
“YOU WHAT?” The scream broke through all of the family reunions and every one suddenly got quiet to see the source. It came from the tall dark warrior from the west. She was screaming at Chan Po’s crazy girl.
“Xena, how was I supposed to know…” the girl argued.
“You sent her off without as much as one escort?” The warrior growled.
“I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. I was angry and I just told her to go...I…”
The warrior grabbed the girl by her collar and got in her face to talk.
Sarah thought back to that line as she entered the cave.
“Not even Xena could have thought up this scenario.” She said quietly to herself.
There was no way this could possibly end up a pleasant experience. She could walk up and find Eve’s shredded body at any moment, or find her alive and have to watch her get shredded. And no matter what order the massacre came in she would most likely have to face the tiger as well. She crept slowly through the dank cave. There were two sets of footprints in the silt; one pair of shoes and one pair of giant clawed foot pads. Swallowing hard she followed them further into the dark, the light stick illuminating only a small portion of her path.
The cave was eerily quiet. The only sounds that could be heard were the soft trickle of condensation dripping off the overhanging rocks. Sarah held the bat at the ready and moved as stealthily as she could. Then she saw something that sent chills up her spine. There was a fork up ahead, both footprints lead to the right at first, but only the tiger’s came back and went the other way. Either it lost interest in its dinner, or Sarah was about to walk up on Eve’s corpse. She took a deep breath and wiped at her brow, though there was no sweat to dab away. With slow steps she entered the spacious cavern and braced herself for the gory scene.
Taking her time, she pivoted to check every corner, but found nothing and then she heard the smallest of whispers coming from her left. She turned and lifted the light to the direction of the noise and saw the Messenger, completely intact. She had somehow wedged herself high up in between two rocks. The tiger wouldn’t have had enough traction to get to her, and must have grown tired of trying. It explained the second set of solitary tracks leading out of the room.
“Jump down, I’ll catch you.” Sarah mouthed more than whispered as she held her arms up and shoved the light stick between her teeth.
Eve seemed to contemplate it for a few seconds as she looked in the direction of the tiger tracks, but finally dropped from her perch. Her weight knocked both of them down with a soft thud and the scrambled back to their feet in fear of having alerted the dangerous beast. They heard nothing over the next couple of seconds and then began to breathe again.
Sarah grabbed the light stick from her mouth and pointed toward the exit before putting a finger to her lips. Eve nodded and they softly trekked out of the cavern. With slow cautious steps they walked toward the exit. The light of the entrance could just be made out around the next bend. With just a few more steps they would have been home free without a scratch on them; but then out of nowhere a growl loud enough to wake the dead started in Sarah’s stomach. She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d eaten, and now her body was making sure to let her know it was time to remedy that. She grabbed at it as if that would stop the sound and eventually the rumbling ceased. The two women stood very still as they waited for the tiger to come running toward them. After a few seconds nothing happened and they breathed a sigh of relief before moving closer to the exit.
Then it happened again, only this time the noise was much louder. It made Sarah’s gurgle sound like the buzzing of a bee. This noise wasn’t coming from the young girl; it was a warning from their predator. Eve and Sarah both turned around slowly to look the animal dead in the face. It was assessing the situation and preparing to pounce.
“Get out of here and bring help. We both can’t run or we’ll lead it straight to the kid out there.” Sarah said as she pushed Eve behind her towards the exit.
“Sarah I’m not leaving you here alone to fight that thing; it’ll rip you apart.” Eve said.
“Eve that thing is about to jump and one of us has to stay here. The longer you argue with me the longer I’m going to have to fight with it. Now get the fuck out of here.” She yelled as she surprised all beings in the room and charged the tiger.
Xena and Gabrielle were still calling out for their daughter when they heard the shrill sound of a whistle off in the distance. It was loud and steady and both women caught wind of it at the same time.
“What is that?” Gabrielle asked. “Do you think that’s Eve?”
“I don’t even know if Eve can whistle.” Xena said, moving toward the sound. “But whatever it is, it’s certainly not an animal, so I think we should check it out. Be careful though, it could be an imperial attachment that got stuck out here last night.”
They barreled through the forest to the constant sound when suddenly it ceased. Both women stopped and gasped for air to figure out what they should do next. A muffled sound could be heard coming from the distance, but Xena couldn’t quite pick out what it was. She squinted her eyes in the direction of the noise as if that would help her hone her skills and after a few seconds she picked out a shrill scream.
“C’mon. Someone’s in trouble!” She said, ushering Gabrielle into a run with her.
As they charged on the sounds got louder and the bard started to notice that they were amplified, as if they were coming from a theatre. Before they reached the source they saw Eve talking to a tree. What in Hades is going on? Gabrielle thought.
“Eve!” Xena yelled out as she reached her daughter.
“Thank the gods.” Eve said as she turned.
Xena grasped her by the shoulders assessing any damage the messenger might have retained. When none was found the warrior hugged her to her.
“Eve, sweetheart, are you ok?” Xena asked as she pushed the girl away to look her in the face.
“Mother, I’m fine.” Eve said and the look of relief on her face turned to one of terror. “But Sarah is in that cave fighting a tiger. I had to leave her there so I could protect the boy.” She moved to reveal the child hiding in the tree.
“Take the boy back to the camp and bring back help just in case.” Gabrielle piped in. “We’ll go save Sarah.”
Eve reached into the tree and grabbed the boys hand to pull him out.
“Be careful.” Eve said. Her warning was earnest and she took a moment to look at the cave with trepidation before addressing them again. “I have a horrible feeling about all of this.”
“Eve, we’ll be fine. There are three of us, and only one tiger.” Gabrielle said gently. “But we have to go now and so do you.”
“Ok.” Eve said, and then looked down to the boy. “C’mon, let’s go.”
Sarah focused on, doing nothing more than breathing and holding her position as she tried to think of a way out of this one. After launching the initial attack on the tiger she saw that her bat alone would not be enough to defeat it. She’d only landed one good swing and she might as well have been using a fly swatter for all the damage it did.
Her own injuries consisted of a razor sharp gash to her right eye. She was lucky enough to move out of the way in time for the claw to reach just before her actual lid, cutting only the eyebrow above and the cheek below. As the tiger was off balance from the missed strike she took the opportunity to swing the bat again and nailed it right in the mouth. The tiger let out an awful noise and backed off for a bit. At that point she started running all along the cave before she reached a dead end and had to enter into combat again. This time her left thigh took the brunt of the damage as the tiger sunk its sharp teeth in to feast.
It only had grip on her for a few seconds before Sarah drew her knife and repaid the animal for the attack on her eye. Only she actually hit the mark and managed to blind it on the one side. The tiger reeled back in pain and gave her an opening to escape the dead end, but it didn’t stay put. As Sarah took off it chased after her at a slower pace due to the loss of depth perception. It’s what gave her enough time to find Eve’s nook in the wall and scramble up there.
Breathing hard and cringing from the pain in her leg, she looked around the room as if there would be an answer written on the walls about how to get out of the situation. There wasn’t one. She felt around her pockets as if the answer might be in there and she only found her Zippo.
What good is that gonna do me? I have this stupid thing. She thought to herself as she raised the glow stick.
As she made the motion the tiger growled and stopped pacing below, prepared to attack. Sarah looked down and monitored its attention as an idea started to form in her head. She moved the glow stick from side to side and the tiger followed it with its head. She then pulled the Zippo from her pocket and kissed it as if it were the key to a kingdom.
She moved herself into a lurching position and launched the glow stick toward the back of the cavern they were in. Sarah then scrambled down to the ground and struck the flint on the lighter. She grunted in pain from the wounds in her leg, but forced herself into a running limp toward the entrance of the cave. The lighter didn’t put off as much light as the glow stick, but it was enough for her to make out the path of the walls if she shielded it from the air. As she ran in what she hoped was the direction to the exit she looked back to see if the tiger had followed suit. A loud growling could be heard in the distance, but she didn’t see the animal on her heels so that was a good sign.
She didn’t turn her head quickly enough to see the wall of warrior standing in front of her, but she did feel the strange yet oddly familiar feeling of a sword impaling her gut as she ran right into it. She grimaced at the discomfort and looked up to see Xena’s horrified face.
Her mouth open in shock, she couldn’t speak at all. Gabrielle came up from behind holding a makeshift torch made from a stick and some kind of moss. The bard quickly moved to Sarah’s side.
“By the Gods! Sarah, are you alright?” She asked, putting a hand on the girl’s shoulder.
“I’ve been better.” Sarah said, and then motioned to the sword sticking out of her gut. “You think you could…” She said, addressing Xena quite casually considering the circumstances.
Xena finally closed her mouth to swallow, and then spoke with an unsure tone that even Gabrielle wasn’t used to hearing.
“Well I was going to do that, but I didn’t quite know the proper technique for something like this. Do you prefer a quick clean movement or something slow so as to not shock the system?”
“How bout we go with quick, being that there’s a pissed off tiger in the cave.” Sarah said.
“Quick it is.” Xena agreed then extracted the sword with one swift motion.
“You’re leg is bleeding, are you sure you’re ok to walk?” Gabrielle asked.
“Yeah, but I’m certainly not gonna turn down help while I have it.” She closed her lighter and stowed it in her pocket then put one arm over Gabrielle’s shoulders motioning for Xena to take the other one.
The warrior obliged, but the three barely took one step before the growl of the tiger was ringing in their ears. Sarah was ripped from their arms and the tigers claws were ripping down her back. With one swift motion Xena swung her sword and nailed the beast in the hip. It turned on the warrior and Xena prepared to swing again. As the tiger tried to take on a lunge pose it lurched from the pain in its hip and backed away, deciding instead to simply circle the warrior.
Gabrielle’s eyes did not leave the scene as she reached down to see if Sarah was alright. Her back was bleeding badly and she seemed to have hit her head as well.
“Sarah, can you hear me?” Gabrielle asked.
When there was no answer she asked again and got the same response.
“Gabrielle I think she’s unconscious you’re going to have to drag her out of here.” Xena said, her eyes never leaving the tiger. “Take that flint thing out of her pocket and light it then give me the torch. You’ll need light to get out of here and I’ll need the torch to fight the tiger.”
“Xena, I’m not leaving you in here alone with that thing.” The bard said sternly.
“It’s tired and injured Gabrielle. That tiger’s working with one eye, a bleeding wound and it looks like a lost fang. Have you noticed that it hasn’t attacked me yet? It’s on the defensive, but Sarah doesn’t need to suffer another attack; she’s bad off as it is. Get her to safety, and then if I haven’t put the animal out of its misery you can come back and help me fight it.”
Gabrielle sighed and moved to give Xena the torch.
“Just be careful.” She said as she handed the torch to the warrior and moved quickly to get Sarah out of the cave.
As Xena advanced on the tiger it swiped at her with its deadly claws. One of the swipes landed on her arm and she winced in pain only for a few seconds. She backed away and they were again at a standstill.
“You are a tough little bastard, I’ll give ya that.” She said drawing her chakram. “Maybe a long range attack is a better idea at this point. I promise to make it quick. You fought a good fight; you’ll get a warrior’s death.”
The tiger’s eye bored into Xena and it growled deeply. As she reared her arm back with the disc it dug its nails into the ground and lurched to the right just as she let the weapon loose. It’ barely grazed the tiger’s tail and ricocheted off the rock. Xena’s eyes grew wide and she ducked just before it was about to lodge itself in her skull.
The clink and clank of the disc could be heard moving back in the cave. Xena chased after it and the tiger followed the warrior in pursuit. The clanking was finally resigned to one small niche of the cave and with a quick vault Xena flipped in the air and grabbed her sacred weapon. Once her feet hit the ground she quickly holstered it back to her hip. And put her sword out as a barrier for the tiger as it circled her once again. She quirked her lip up in the smallest smile, amazed at the animal’s tenacity.
“I guess we’re gonna have to do this the hard way.” The warrior said.
Then both warriors’ ears detected a growl that came from neither of them. It was a rumble that came from the mountain. She couldn’t imagine how, but apparently all the commotion in the cave must have knocked something loose. The cave was about to collapse. As if they realized it at the same time they both sprinted for the exit. Even with its injuries the tiger was able to keep up with Xena. They ran side by side as the rocks around them started to fall.
It was becoming less dangerous as they reached the exit, and Xena focused in on taking care of the tiger before it reached Sarah and Gabrielle. She raised her sword up and drew it down swiftly, but the animal must have seen the motion out of its good eye because it lurched forward and the motion caused Xena to lose her balance. She fell face first onto the ground and tried to push herself up, but was stopped by a searing pain in her right leg. A massive rock had fallen right behind the knee. She looked back to assess the damage because the pain was too great to try to move out from under it. She cried out when she saw that the rock had likely crushed her kneecap.
Once Gabrielle finally finished dragging Sarah to the tree where her pack was, she heard the rumble of the mountain. The cave was about to collapse and Xena was still inside fighting the tiger.
“Xena!” She screamed as she dropped Sarah to the ground and propped her against the tree. The girl was still unconscious, but she came second to Xena no matter what the situation.
“I’m sorry Sarah.” She whispered softly and then took off for the cave.
It was then that she saw the Tiger limping out and rushing towards the forest. It didn’t even see her and it was moving away from Sarah’s direction so Gabrielle trudged on into the cave with only a hope that the tiger wouldn’t find the girl.
As she entered the cave she was careful to watch for falling rocks as they started to come down in greater numbers. She used the lighter to find her way through until she saw the torch on the ground and Xena lying next to it, trapped under a rock.
“Xena!” She screamed as she made her way over to the fallen warrior. Tears started to form in her eyes as she saw Xena’s anguished face.
“Gabrielle!” The warrior said almost apologetically. “Gabrielle I can’t walk, you have to get out of here.”
The bard said nothing only moved to push the rock off of Xena’s leg. The warrior let out a blood curdling scream and her nails dug into the ground from the pain.
“Gabrielle, what are you doing? I told you to leave.” She said with anger tinting her voice.
“I know you did. I just thought the request was so stupid it didn’t warrant a response. Now wrap your arms around my neck and hold onto me while I carry you out of here.”
“Gabr-“Xena started to speak, but she was cut off.
“Xena I can drag you like this and let your leg hit ever rock on the way out of here, or you can cooperate and hang on to my back, it’s your choice. But either way I’m getting you out of this cave.”
Blinding pain was shooting through Sarah’s skull and across her back as she finally started to stir into consciousness. Her eyes were blurry as she opened them and a groan erupted from her throat as she tried to move. As her pupils began to focus she screamed in horror at the sight before her. Blood, fur, and fang were mere inches away from her face as the tiger stared into her eyes with its remaining ocular appendage.
She drew the knife quickly and waved it in front of her, causing the tiger to move back, but not run away. It simply stared at her; not growling, not attacking.
“Look, I know you probably came to finish me off, but you can’t.” She said, following with a hard swallow. “You might as well just leave things as they are, before the two of us get more disfigured.”
It stared at her still. Sarah thought for a moment. Why wasn’t it attacking?
“You know you can’t kill me, don’t you? You can tell somehow.”
It still did nothing but stare. Both human and animal trying to understand the situation. Then suddenly there was a quick whoosh passing by Sarah’s ear and an arrow buried in the ground at the Tiger’s feet. It lurched and she yelled at it to run. Within seconds it was gone, it’s footprints the only sign that it had even been there. Footsteps and yells emanated from behind her and she could only hope that it was a rescue group from the base camp. She found her hopes to be true when a strong hand clapped down on her shoulder and the dark eyes of the Slavic assassin were checking her over.
“What the hell happened to you?” She asked taking in the blood that covered Sarah’s head.
“Ah nothing, I just fought a tiger.” Sarah said with a narcissistic smile.
Rada laughed, “Oh don’t look so pleased with yourself; you can’t die. It’s not that big of an accomplishment.”
Sarah laughed softly and then started to lose the small burst of adrenaline she’d had when the Tiger was facing her. Her eyes drooped and her breathing got shallow.
“I think I’m gonna pass out again. You need to go into the cave, Xena and…” She was cut off.
“Mother!” Came a scream, Sarah recognized as Eve’s.
When Sarah awoke she had one of the worst headaches of her life and was laid out on a cot on her stomach. When she tried to get up slicing pain shot throughout the skin on her back.
“Fuck.” She growled through gritted teeth.
“Sarah, stay down.” Someone said.
She moved her head to the side and saw Eve kneeling at her bedside.
“I’ve cleaned the cuts on your back, but I haven’t dressed them yet. I need you to be still.” The messenger informed her.
“Oh that’s gonna feel lovely.” Sarah said with anxiety in her voice.
“Here.” Said a voice to the other side of her. She turned her head to see Rada holding up a bottle of something that smelled particularly strong.
“Don’t give that to her!” Eve chastised “That’s just going to make things worse later on for her head.”
Sarah grabbed the bottle and said, “I’ll take my chances.”
She painfully rose up to take a few long pulls from the bottle and coughed a little at the burning sensations running down her throat, then collapsed back down on the cot. She reached a hand up to her head and noticed that that wound had already been dressed. Then after the warmth started to fill her belly from the alcohol she made her mind think of something other than her body.
“What happened to Xena?” She asked worriedly, and then flinched as Eve started to apply salve to her back.
Eve locked eyes with Rada then took a deep breath before answering.
“The cave started to collapse before she got out of it and a rock fell on her right leg.” She took a moment to work up the courage to get the rest out, but couldn’t. Rada, seeing her difficulties, decided to continue for her.
“They’ve got her knocked out in one of the private tents right now. They don’t know if they can save her leg and she was fighting them too hard to keep her awake…” The Slav said, then took a draught from the bottle herself. “They had to knock her out.”
Sarah gripped the top of the cot and buried her head in the shirt they’d used for a pillow and screamed in frustration and guilt.
“God damnit, this is all my fucking fault!” She said.
“You’re fault?” Eve asked in astonishment, “Sarah if it hadn’t been for you, she wouldn’t even be alive. I’m the one who got captured in Chin, didn’t stay on the boat back to Greece and got cornered in the cave by the tiger. If she loses her leg it will be my fault.”
“Eve, you know that’s not true.” Sarah said as she pushed herself up a bit and grabbed for the bottle again. “I’m the one who yelled at you and sent you away from the battle without any escorts, none of us would have been over there if it weren’t for me.”
As she drank from the bottle again, Rada piped in.
“Hey, you two can argue about it all you want, but it’s not going to help anything and it’s giving me a headache.” She said taking back the bottle. “Let’s talk about something else until we hear word from the healer, then you two can go see who Xena blames.”
Both women got quiet as Eve finished putting on the salve.
“Ok, Sarah, I need to sit you up so I can wrap the bandage around you.” Eve said. “Rada, help me out.”
As Sarah pushed herself up she could still feel the gashes in her back stinging a little less than before. Eve and Rada helped her sit up and she tried to straighten herself as much as possible. She didn’t even care that she was flashing the messenger, and they’d put up a sheet to prevent the rest of the camp from seeing her.
“How’s it look?” Sarah asked.
“Oh believe me, this may be one of the best things to ever happen to you. Girls like scars and when you tell them you got yours from fighting a tiger it’ll be much easier to get them in the bed.” Rada said.
Sarah chuckled and Eve narrowed her eyes at the callous remark.
“How many scratches are there?” She asked.
“Four at the top and four right below that. It’s not straight up and down, so the tiger must have got you at an angle.” Eve answered.
“Shouldn’t take more than a week or two to heal.” Rada said. “Could be worse.”
“Yeah, I could be losing my leg.” Sarah said solemnly.
Gabrielle sat there crying as she held Xena’s hand and looked at her unconscious face. The warrior had vehemently fought the healer when he mentioned her losing her leg, and while Gabrielle didn’t want that to happen either, she wanted the warrior alive and that was the most important thing right now. The healer behind her had been trying to reset the breaks in her knee for some time and the bard knew that he was just as scared as she was to remove the leg; only for different reasons. He cleared his throat and she turned to hear the verdict. His old face fell even more than it did naturally when he met her eyes.
“I’m sorry child, but saving her leg is beyond my abilities at this point. There are many breaks and crushed bones on the inside and they will infect. There is nothing else that can be done.”
More tears slipped from Gabrielle’s eyes as she bowed her head in defeat, then nodded. Without a word she’d given someone permission to take a part of her lover away. She could hear him calling outside of the tent for the needed supplies. She watched as the healer marked the area right above the warrior’s knees as his helper started to heat a shield on one of the torches in order to cauterize the wound after amputation. A tight belt was placed above the incision mark and the healer nodded to her as if to say it was time. Gabrielle grabbed Xena’s hand again and held tight as she kept her eyes on the warrior’s face. She couldn’t bear to watch what was about to happen.
The healer began to count in an effort to prepare the cauterizer and just as the count was about to reach three the flaps at the entrance of the tent whipped open and everyone turned to see who it was. Once the healer’s eyes registered who the man was he fell to his knees and bowed his head all the way to the floor; his assistant followed suit. It took a few moments for Gabrielle to recognize who it was, but it soon came to her. This was the man that had started the war; the one with Lao Ma’s powers.
Gabrielle stood up to greet him and bowed before wiping the tears away from her eyes.
“Please stand.” He said to the men in the room, before moving over to look at Xena.
“I heard that she hurt her leg.” He said, examining the exposed appendage. “What’s going on?”
The healer spoke. “My lord, her knee is crushed and there are many cuts on the inside. We cannot treat this and if we leave it this way infection will spread throughout her body and kill her. We must remove the leg.”
“And I’m assuming she doesn’t want this.” He noted, touching the wound to her head.
“Yes.” Gabrielle said.
Lui then stood up and took off his coat.
“The infection won’t spread far right away.” He said. “Give me some time with her and then we’ll see if she has to lose it.”
The healer nodded then they both looked to Gabrielle.
“Please,” She said. “Please do whatever you can. Lao Ma was able to heal her legs at one point, maybe you can too.”
He nodded and the healer and assistant left them alone. Lui unhooked the belt from the warrior’s leg, and Gabrielle took her position back at her side.
“You love her very much.” He said.
“More than I ever thought it was possible to love someone.” The bard answered.
“Well then let’s both have faith in the impossible, because right now she needs a miracle.” He said, beginning the ritual.
Gabrielle nodded and kissed the warriors hand before answering.
Sarah had passed out again, not too long after Eve finished her dressing; leaving the messenger and the assassin alone to talk. More importantly, it left ample time for Rada to hit on Eve and have her advances spurned. The dark haired pacifist tried to steer the conversation elsewhere after a while.
“What do you plan to do after all this is over?” Eve asked.
Rada’s eyes became dark, as she took another swig of the liquor then answered.
“I dunno. When I was captured all I could think about was getting back home, but now…” She went to a sad, far off place and Eve noticed it. “Now I think I might just see where Sarah is going. She’s not so good at fighting if you hadn’t noticed.” She said with a smirk that tried to cover up her pain.
“Do you know where Sarah is going?” Eve asked.
“No, I figured you would.” Rada said answered and Eve shook her head. “Doesn’t really matter to me. I’m just tired of being alone. A couple years in a cell will do that to you.”
There was a small silence and Eve simply watched as Rada took another sip and tried to find something interesting about the floor to focus on.
“Did you really kill the prince?” She asked.
Rada looked at her thoughtfully. “Does it matter to you?” She asked.
“Human life always matters, even if the person is…” Eve started, but then she was cut off by the nearly empty bottle being smashed on the floor.
“No!” the assassin screamed and brought her face close to Eve’s. “You listen to me; there was nothing human about him, nothing! He’s lucky I was too angry to torture him any longer than I did.”
They stared off at each other for a few seconds then Eve’s eyes flicked over to the smashed bottle under Rada’s hand. She reached for the appendage.
“Here, let me see your hand.” Eve said.
At first the girl pulled it away, but Eve didn’t falter and she finally gave in and let her tend to it. Sarah had woken up when the bottle smashed and was trying to understand what was going on.
“Everything ok?” She asked.
“It’s fine.” Rada said while looking Eve in the eyes in a way that clearly stated the conversation was over.
“Yes, all is well.” The messenger stated as she cleaned and dressed the small wounds on Rada’s hands. “How are you feeling?” She asked Sarah.
“A little less worse for wear than I’d expected.” The time traveler answered. “I want to see Xena now.”
As Sarah got up Eve rose to stop her leaving Rada to tend to her cuts.
“Sarah, you shouldn’t move around so much, you’ll just aggravate the wounds on your back. The salve hasn’t had nearly enough time to set.”
“Look, I’m sure we can have a very heated debate as to why I should be resting right now, but let me save you the trouble and say that unless you plan on physically stopping me I plan to see how Xena is doing.” She said in a bored voice. Eve looked at her as if she was about to argue anyway, but was cut off again. “Don’t make me waste the energy, Eve. “
The messenger agreed with a shrug of her shoulders and helped Rada finish up.
When they reached Xena’s tent there were two guards posted outside that informed them that they should wait outside until someone came out to give them the news. They did as they were told for nearly an hour when suddenly the flaps to the tent opened. Sarah and Rada recognized the man holding the flap as Liu Xiu. He made eye contact with all three women then stepped to the side to hold the flap open for someone to exit.
Both Sarah and Eve held their breath as they saw Xena slowly hobbling out of the tent with Gabrielle supporting her on one side. Both legs were intact, even if one of them was worse for wear. The messenger and the time traveler slowly approached, saying nothing. Xena looked them both over with intense features that softened suddenly into a smile. She guessed what they were both thinking.
“What, no hug?” She asked.
Eve rushed to her mother’s arms while Sarah stood back, not knowing whether the invitation was extended to her as well. When mother and daughter finally broke apart the warrior gave Sarah the ok with a nod of her head and the young girl breathed a sigh of relief before accepting the invitation. When she broke off the questions started.
“So you’re leg’s going to be fine?” Eve asked.
Xena started to take small steps in the area outside the tent to test out her leg and let Liu explain.
“We can’t know anything for sure right now, other than the fact that her leg won’t infect and therefore won’t need to be amputated. With some exercise and therapy she may have more mobility than she does right now, but there was too much damage to repair it all. Xena will most likely require a cane to walk for the rest of her life.”
Both Eve and Sarah’s faces fell.
“Is there nothing else that can be done?” Sarah asked, with little hope.
“I’m afraid not. “ Liu said. “She’s lucky to be upright at all. And even luckier that I happened by to check on the camp when I did. It was Lao Ma’s special techniques that got her this far. Otherwise she would have lost her leg.”
“I think that’s about enough walking around for now.” Xena said, trying to break up the conversation. “I don’t want to push things right away. “
They all helped her back onto the cot in her tent, and the warrior let out an exasperated sigh as she hit the sheets. She looked over the two solemn faces of Eve and Sarah and shook her head with a grin. The two girls couldn’t even meet her eyes.
“Do you all think I could have a moment alone with Eve and Sarah?” Xena asked.
Gabrielle, Rada and Lui Xiu nodded and exited the room, leaving the three women in privacy. Both of the summoned two were fiercely examining the floor until Xena spoke.
“So have you two worked out which one of you is more to blame for this?” The warrior asked.
“It was my fault.” They both answered in unison then looked back down at the floor.
Xena let a small chuckle escape and then spoke again.
“I thought as much.” She said. “Then I guess that means I owe both of you a great deal of thanks.”
“What?” Sarah asked as they both looked up in confusion.
Xena smiled softly and answered. “A couple of days ago I explained to Eve that settling down with Gabrielle has never been an appealing road to take because I would always feel the need to make up for all the wrongs I’ve done by fighting for the greater good. Well now that just isn’t an option anymore. I can barely walk on my own, let alone fight. I’ll have no choice but to settle down with the woman I love, and with the loss of that choice also goes the loss of my burden. So if you see that rock falling on my leg as both of your faults, then I am in a great deal of debt to both of you. Because you’ve given Gabrielle and I an actual chance to grow old together. So, thank you both.” She said genuinely.
Sarah shook her head and looked back at the ground again, not buying the explanation.
“Xena I know you’re trying to make us feel better, but…”
“She’s not.” Eve cut her off and looked at her mother with complete understanding. “It may be difficult for you to understand, Sarah, but I do believe that she’s genuinely accepting of what’s happened.”
Sarah still challenged Eve with a look, but was quickly answered back.
“It’s a former murderous warlord thing.” Eve explained, and it took a second but Sarah finally acquiesced.
“So I guess tomorrow you’ll be making plans to go back to Greece and stay with the Amazon’s?” Sarah asked.
“Liu suggested I stay a few more days in his care just in case there is anymore Lao Ma’s techniques can do for me, but I’m going to be sending you two out on the first boat to let the Amazon’s know we are on our way.”
“Both of us?” Sarah asked.
“Of course. Eve’s obviously not doing so well travelling without a bodyguard and it’s not exactly like you have anywhere else to go.” Xena said. “Besides I have an idea about how to get you back home. It’s possible that the stone I hid with the Amazon’s is still in one of their caves, hidden safely. You may still have a chance to go back to the future.”
Sarah’s facial features pulled a complete 180. She hadn’t even considered the idea of the stone still being safe with the amazons.
“Just strap me in the Delorian and call me Marty McFly!” She said with enthusiasm and was met with confused stares. “That means I’m in.” She finished, reigning in her excitement.
“Ok, then we’d all better get some rest hadn’t we?” Xena asked and was answered with nods. “Can one of you two find Gabrielle and tell her we’re done here?”
“Of course.” Eve answered and they both bid Xena good night as they exited the tent.
Once outside, a hand grasped Sarah’s arm. She turned to see Liu holding on to her.
“Sarah, can I have a word with you?” He asked.
Sarah turned to look at Eve who said, “Don’t worry, I’ll find Gabrielle and send her back. Take your time.”
“Um, do you want to take a walk around the camp or something?” She asked, “I think Xena and Gabrielle are gonna want some alone time.”
“Yes that’s fine.” He said and they started off on a slow paced stroll. “I wanted to thank you for what you did back at the palace dungeon.”
“You know I don’t think I’ve ever received so much praise for things I’m not proud of doing.” She said with irony peppering her voice. “I’m glad you’re people are on their way to freedom from persecution Liu, but I have to say that it’s come at great price. I’ve seen a lot of death the past few days and you were right when you said that I was asking to casually for war. I had no idea what it would be like.”
“That was obvious.” He said with a small, sad smile. “But Sarah, it had to be done. I see that now. Far less people will die from starvation now. Wealth and power will be distributed to people who are using it for a greater good. We aren’t just winning the war with weapons; many of the emperor’s soldiers were just as poor as the rebels. They are changing sides to fight for their own better futures. If things keep going the way they are now we will have only the nobles to fight, and they aren’t so quick to put their lives on the line, no matter what the cause. This is looking to be a quick overthrow of power and the people of China owe a great deal of that to you.”
Sarah allowed the words to inflate her ego only for a few seconds before she let the truth bring her back down to the ground.
“As much as I appreciate, and would truly like to take credit for what all’s happening, it most likely would have happened anyway. I can see that now. The people look at you almost like a god, you were always meant to lead them through this. You would have found a way eventually, even if I’d never come along.”
“No, you’re wrong about that.” He said stopping them in their tracks on a ridge that over looked the forest. “Right before you came to my cell that night I’d opened a vile of poison that I’d bought off one of the guards. I’d been planning it for months, but you interrupted me before I had a chance to take it and then you talked me into escaping and leading the rebellion. Believe what you want, but it’s the truth. The people of China are free from the control of a cruel dictator because of you.”
Sarah squinted out into the woods as if they would hold some kind of explanation as to what was going on. She found nothing.
“This isn’t possible.” She said quietly to herself. “It would mean I was always destined to come back.”
“Excuse me?” Lui interrupted her thoughts.
“Nothing.” She said. “I think I just need to sit down and rest for a while. You can go on back to the camp. I’ll be fine here on my own. “
“I guess that’s what I’ll do then.” He said, confused as he watched her sit and dangle her legs off the ledge. “You do understand that I was complementing you, right?”
Sarah chuckled. “I do. I’m sorry if I’m reacting poorly right now. I’m just…” she tried to find the right words then spoke them. “…very humbled.”
“Then I’ll leave you to your thoughts.” He said as he headed back in to camp.
Sarah’s eyes scanned over the forest as quickly as her mind raced through her thoughts. She tried to wrap her mind around the idea of the future being the way it was because of decisions she made now, but it was such a cyclical thought process that it merely succeeded in making her head hurt. She softly massaged her temple for a brief moment before taking one last look into the clearing.
It was then that she saw it: the tiger she’d fought in the cave, standing proudly on a rock, looking straight up at her. She couldn’t believe it had actually survived the past few hours with all of the injuries they’d inflicted up on it, yet there it was. The irony of the situation then became clear. Neither one of them should have been there at all, yet they were.
Maybe there was a reason for it.
She swallowed and tipped an imaginary hat towards the tough bastard. She wished she had her fedora with her, but Eve had taken it with all of her stuff. So the gesture alone would have to do. And with a grunt worthy amount of pain, she got back to her feet and started to walk back to camp. Out of curiosity she looked back one more time to see the tiger, but it had already disappeared back into the forest.
“Hope your journey’s less dangerous than mine.” She said. “Because I’m about to have to deal with Amazons.”
Gabrielle pushed the extra cot in the tent next to Xena’s then began to dress in her night shift before settling in. As she freed herself from the leather she wore during day and let the soft cotton slip over the curves of her body Xena couldn’t help but stare.
“You know you’re lucky I’m severely injured right now, otherwise the entire camp would know what you sound like in the throes of passion.” She said seductively to the bard.
Gabrielle fired a mischievous smile in the direction of the warrior then quickly moved to get into the makeshift bed.
“Oh really, warrior princess?” The bard said.
“Definitely.” Xena purred as she pulled her lover closer to her. “You know how much I can want you when the battle lust get’s the better of me. And we just fought a war baby.”
“Kind of like the last time we fought a war in Chin?” Gabrielle said, adding a quick kiss.
Xena chuckled. “Well that was one of our more intense sessions due to the fact that one battling bard was flirting a dashing male warrior. I had to make sure you didn’t forget whose bed you belonged in that night.”
“Oh please.” Gabrielle countered playfully. “First off he was the one that started the flirting with me, and second of all, if I did flirt back in any way it was only to get you back for showing your goods off to Ares while you were confused about your dark side.”
“Ugghh. Don’t remind me. “Xena scowled.
“Well there certainly won’t be any jealous romps tonight. You’re leg’s gonna have to have a couple more days healing before you can even think about jumping back into bedroom action.” The bard joked.
Xena let a small smile cross her face, then it slowly faded. She tried to look as if she was preoccupied with getting comfortable in the bed, but Gabrielle noticed the lull in conversation.
“What is it?” She asked.
Instead of trying to shrug it off and having the conversation later, she decided to go ahead and let it out.
“Gabrielle, I think you know as well as I do that this is going to have at least a small effect in our bedroom forever, and an even larger effect on other aspects of life together. I’m sure I already know your answer, but are you sure you still want…”
“If you know the answer then why even bother to ask the question.” Gabrielle said, stopping Xena mid sentence. “Let me put your mind at ease when I say that I still love you just as much today as I did yesterday. Even more if it’s possible. This,” She said, softly putting her hand on Xena’s injured leg, “doesn’t change anything as far as I’m concerned. In fact it’ll just make certain aspects of our life all the more interesting.”
The last part was said with a sexy smirk as the bard leaned in to kiss the warrior. She stroked her face softly as she explored her mouth. The kiss was passionate, but at the same time comforting. She wanted to convey her love and devotion for Xena, but knew things didn’t need to get too heated. When they broke off she laid her head down on the warrior’s shoulder and put an arm around her mid section.
“It’s really going to happen isn’t it, Xena? We’re going to have a bed to sleep in every night and a room to keep all of our stuff. We won’t have to wonder where we’re going to sleep or if we’ll be ambushed in the middle of the night…” The bard’s heart was so full from thinking about their future together, but then a small kernel of doubt invaded her mind. “Are you going to be ok with that, Xena? I mean really ok?”
“Of course, Gabrielle. We’d planned to do that before I smashed my knee, you know that.” Xena said.
“I know, but that was a choice we made. You would have always known you could walk away if you wanted to. You might not have felt so tied down.” The bard said.
“Gabrielle I could never feel tied down with you.” Xena said as she stroked the bard’s hair. “You’re the only person on this Earth that makes me feel free to be who I am. You’ve seen all the darkness in me and you’ve never run away from it. I don’t think you even come close to understanding what you’ve done for me.” She paused, to kiss Gabrielle’s head, trying to find the right words to describe how she felt. Then finally she did. “Your love justifies my existence Gabrielle. I don’t know if that makes sense to you, but it’s all I could ever need.”
Gabrielle rose up so she could look Xena in the eyes and stroke her face as she spoke.
“Do you want to know something ironic about that?” She asked, without actually waiting for an answer. “I don’t think I could love anyone else because of that very fact. I know you say that I make you feel free to be who you are, but you have to know that you do the same for me. You’ve watched me go through a lot of growth during the years we’ve been together, and I’m sure you’ve noticed that I don’t pull any punches when it comes to what I feel. It’s like I can’t contain it; I just have to act and let it all out. A lot of people can’t handle that, it annoys them. But you let me be me, and you love me for it. Don’t think you’re the only lucky one Xena, because you’re not.”
“I don’t think many people are this lucky, Gabrielle. “ Xena said. “So if you’re asking me if living the rest of my life with a love this special will be too boring, I think you know what my answer will be. I may have lost a large part of my life today, but I don’t think I could be happier than I am at this moment.”
Sunshine and sea air never looked better to the two women stowing their belongings away on the Chinese boat bound for Greece. They had both been through so much in such a short period of time that finally finding the light at the end of the tunnel made everything just a little bit sweeter. Their accommodations were meager; just a small room with bunk beds and little room to move, but it didn’t even occur to either one of them to have better. They were both going home in a sense. Sarah, in search of the stone, and Eve to the new home of her mothers.
They still had a few moments before the boat took off so they exited to say their last goodbyes to Xena, Gabrielle, and Rada. The Slav had told them the night before that she’d planned on venturing back home to see her family. She’d missed them a great deal during her captivity and getting back was all that was on her mind. All three women stood next to each other as they waited to send them off. Eve barreled toward Xena and Gabrielle, hugging them both fiercely, as Sarah strolled over to Rada.
“You two take care of each other until I see you again.” Eve said before breaking off.
“Ah, you know us,” Gabrielle said. “We like to avoid trouble at all costs.”
Eve laughed knowingly and nodded in affirmation.
“I’ll never be able to repay you for all the times you’ve saved me.” She said
“You repay us every time we get to see you smile.” Xena said as she hugged Gabrielle to her.
“Then I’ll try to do it as often as possible.” Eve said, leaning in for one more hug before she had to break off and get back on the boat.
Meanwhile Sarah had made her way over to the new friend that she was sad to separate from.
“So you sure you wanna go home and see your folks now?” She said jokingly to the Slav. “I mean really, who are you gonna have more fun with; me or them?”
Rada let out a small chuckle and gave Sarah a soft punch to the shoulder.
“You know it’s tempting, but you tend to attract trouble from what I’ve seen.” She answered.
“Exactly.” Sarah said “We’ll kick some ass, drink some booze, and fuck some Amazons. How much better could life get?”
“I’ll leave that to you for now. But something tells me it’s gonna be more like you getting your ass kicked by Amazons after they’ve had too much to drink because you got caught watching them fuck.”
“Well that’ll be fun too.” Sarah said and then held her hand up to punch Rada’s before grabbing her in a frat boy hug. “If you get bored at home come find me. I don’t plan on leaving right away and I have a feeling I’m gonna miss having somebody around to help me make fun of Eve.” She said before breaking off.
“Me and you: we are like this.” Rada said, moving her hand between their eyes as if to say they saw things the same way.
Sarah clapped her on the shoulder and saw that Eve was done with her goodbyes to Xena and Gabrielle and moved over to say her own.
“Rada.” Eve said as she held out her hand.
“Eve.” Rada said, before grasping the hand and kissing it. Then before she let go, pulled the messenger to her and kissed her full on the lips. Eve quickly fought off the forced affections, but Rada held on for a few seconds before letting go. Xena was ready to pounce, but it was over before she had a chance.
“Ugghh. You brute!” Eve exclaimed. “If I weren’t a pacifist I’d slap you hard across the face right now.”
“Sure, baby,” Rada said with a laugh. “You just keep telling yourself that.”
Sarah smiled and moved over to say goodbye to Xena and Gabrielle.
“Well I guess this is it for a little while.” She said, not knowing exactly where things stood between them after all that had happened. “You guys sure you’re going to be ok here by yourselves?”
Both warrior and bard raised their eyebrows as if Sarah had gone completely insane.
“Yeah, I guess that was a stupid question.” The girl said. She looked down at the ground and rubbed the sweat off the back of her neck.
“C’mere and give us a hug Sarah.” Xena said. “You know you want to you big softie.”
Sarah smirked and hugged Xena close.
“Sorry I fucked things up so much.” She said.
“Just goes to show how closely related we really are.” Xena said as she pulled away with a smile and settled on to her crutch.
Sarah then moved on to Gabrielle, the bard hugged her tight.
“I know you think you’re alone here, Sarah, but you’re not.” She whispered in the girl’s ear. “You’ve made quite a few friends here, especially the one you’re about to get on that boat with.”
Gabrielle gave her one last squeeze then let go.
“Take care of her.” She said to Sarah.
The time traveler nodded and stepped back to stand next to Eve. At that moment one of the boatmen announced that the ship was about to sail and Sarah wrapped an arm around Eve’s shoulders.
“C’mon, bunk mate. Let’s board before they leave us behind.” They both waved one last time before turning to get on the ship when suddenly a voice started calling out from behind them.
They turned back and saw a young boy and his mother rushing through Xena, Gabrielle and Rada. They came right up to Sarah and gave an out of breath bow. Though she was incredibly confused, she bowed back.
“My name is Chan Po and this is my mother. I fought with you near the ravine.” He said, catching his breath. “You saved my life.”
“I’m glad.” Sarah said, not knowing exactly what the proper response for something like that was.
“When they brought you in from fighting the tiger I came to see you, but you were asleep.” He said. “I saw the big stick you carry around sitting in the corner, and I noticed it had a tiger fang in it. I wanted to thank you for what you did, so I took it and made this.”
He held up a necklace. The chain was made of black leather and the charm was indeed the tiger fang. A small hole had been drilled in the center, and filled in with a polished piece of jade. Sarah couldn’t say anything; she was incredibly touched by the gesture.
“They said the tiger was so strong it survived against you and the great warrior Xena.” He said, as if trying to dignify the gift even more. “If the tiger’s spirit is that strong maybe wearing a part of it will enhance your own.”
Sarah took the necklace and put it around her neck, then tightened it until the tooth dangled against the hollow at the bottom of her throat. When she was finished she fingered the tooth and looked back up.
“This is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.” She said then bowed. “Thank you.”
He bowed back and smiled then his mother bowed and urged him to leave with her. Once they were gone Sarah noticed everyone was staring at her and turned red from the attention.
“Ok, let’s go.” She said to Eve and they turned to board the boat once more.
“Looks like you didn’t ‘fuck’ things up too bad.” Eve said, struggling with the unfamiliar word.
Sarah looked at her with shock.
“Do you have any idea what you just said?” She asked the messenger.
“Not really, but it seemed to be in the right context. Was it not?” She asked.
“Nope, that was the perfect use of that phrase Eve.” Sarah said, putting her arm around her shoulders again as they stepped onto the bow. “You should use it more often.”
And with that they set off on a new journey for both of them.
To be continued in Book 2 of the “Living in the Past” series.
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